FORMALITY VS. INFORMALITY
Do you know how to speak English with your close friend and use the same language for your boss or teacher too? Surely there is a difference in the way you talk between the two. You use more relaxed words, in other words, less formal when you talk with your friend, whereas for your boss or teacher you should be more careful with the kind of words you use. They should be formal and more polite.
Let’s look at some ways of talking using formality and informality.
Contractions, relative clauses without a relative pronoun and ellipsis are more common in informal language.
I have decided to study abroad. (formal)
I’ve decided to study abroad. (informal)
John my coworker whom I met at the cinema is a nice man. (formal)
John my coworker I met at the cinema is a nice man. (informal)
We went to China last summer. We had a lot of fun there. (formal)
Went to China last summer. Had a lot of fun there. (informal: ellipsis, more likely to be written or texted than spoken)
So, formal speaking needs longer words or words with the origins in Latin or Greek and informal speaking needs shorter words with the origin in Anglo-Saxon.
From formality comes another concept called politeness.
There are certain sentences or words that are used to show respect and politeness in our speaking. Here are some examples of how we can speak while being polite.
Politeness is about keeping good relations with your listener or reader.
There are two types of politeness
– showing the listener or reader that you value and respect them.
– changing or softening what you say so as not to be too direct or forceful.
When we want to show respect to our listener or reader, care should be taken with using words or phrases to help us do so.
[addressing an audience]
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr. Patrick Murphy …
[a waiter in a restaurant]
May I take your plate, sir?
[a message in a thank-you card]
Thank you for your wonderful gift.
[asking a stranger for directions]
Excuse me, I’m looking for Cathedral Street.
Not: Where’s Cathedral Street?
In formal contexts when we don’t know people and we want to show respect, we use titles such as Mr + family name, Ms + family name, sir, madam, doctor (Dr), professor (Prof.)
[checking out at a hotel reception desk]
A: Here’s your credit card, Mr. Watts. Have a safe trip.
B: Thank you.
[at a restaurant]
Shall I take your coat, Madam?
[emailing a professor that you don’t know]
Dear Prof. Kinsella …
Not: Hi John
Talking and asking less direct:
Another way to show our politeness is not to be very direct in our talking. In other words, softer words are used.
It’s kind of cold in here, isn’t it? Could we close the window? (Softer)
It’s cold in here. Let’s close the window. (More direct)
Could you just turn the radio down a little, please? (Softer)
Turn down the radio. (The imperative is very direct when used in requests.)
Hope these examples have shown you the differences between the formal speaking and informal one.